Saturday, 4 July 2009

Please Come Again

We are so sorry that it has been so long since our last post. We do not have access to the internet, and we have had a very CRAZY few days.

We had our court date, and it turned out as we had expected but not as we had hoped: the judge asked us to bring in some more paperwork for a new hearing next week. There was a problem with one of Tommy's documents, and he wanted it to be fixed before he would hear our case. It was intimidating to be in court, even though it is only in chambers, not in front of the full court. Tommy did not exactly behave. He screamed almost the entire time, and threw his sippy cup, which spilt all over the floor. I was surprised he acted up because Sister (the woman who cared for him at the orphanage) was there with us, and he loves to be with her. He has been otherwise fairly well behaved, so the judge just got a special show. Our hearing will resume on Wednesday, July 8.

After the hearing we met with Isaac to learn what new paperwork we needed. Sister Christine was going to have to go back to Ibanda to get the signature sealed by the district Magistrate. Since we wanted to go to Ibanda anyway to see Tommy's home, we decided to go with her. It was probably about 10:30 at that point, and we had to hit the road quickly, because it is unsafe to travel in the western part of the country after dark due to ambushes. We dropped Sister off at the convent where she stays while in Kampala, went back to our guest house and packed our stuff really quickly, then picked Sister up and headed for Ibanda.

The road is nice for the first few hours, but after a while it becomes very potholed, if it is paved at all. There are parts where the paving is so worn down on either side that you essentially have to drive down the middle of the road. Some of the potholes are the size of a bathtub, so you have to doge those too. There is only one lane on either side (although lanes in Uganda general are more like suggestions), and many hills and some turns. Did I mention that we don’t have a car seat? It was one wild and nerve-wracking ride. We stopped at the equator for a picture, then at a roadside stand to buy sweet potatoes for the babies to eat for the next few days, and then in Mbarara (which is the area that Tommy is actually from). We ate dinner at a bakery there: cheese pies, pizza, sausage rolls, samosas, sodas, and pastries- we fed the five of us for about 8 USD. Any food that is not "American" is very cheap here. And the soda is incredibly good because they use real sugar. I never drink soda in the US because I don’t really like it, but I am happy to have a Krest Bitter Lemon here.

We got to Ibanda after dark, so we were a little nervous for the last leg of the Journey, although both Sister and our driver Eddie were confident that the road from Mbarara to Ibanda was safe. We stayed at a hotel in Ibanda. It was an interesting experience. We pulled up, and Sister went in to acquire our accommodations. Then she asked Jeff to come inside. She brought him into the hotel lobby, where many people were gathered watching TV and playing video games and brought him up to a man in the far corner of the room, and said to Jeff, "I'll introduce you to the mayor of this town and the owner." The she said to the Mayor, "This man is here to foster one of the children, can he stay here?" He looked at Jeff and said “You are welcome,” then he asked Sister: "Is he alone?" And Sister assured him that Jeff had a wife and that the baby was with us. He agreed.

So, we got to stay in the Mayor's hotel for the night. We got up early for breakfast because Tommy had not eaten much the night before and was hungry. We were the first ones out, so we got a lovely seat on the patio overlooking the gardens. We started eating, and this man came and sat at the table next to us. He began to talk to us and ask us questions about Tommy and our jobs, and how we would raise him to be a Ugandan American instead of a black American (examples given by Eddie: Michael Jackson or Oprah). I had a hard time understanding his accent, so he let me know my English was very poor. I agreed. After he left, Jeff turns to me and tells me that I had been speaking with the Mayor! I felt so embarrassed because here officials are called special names and such, and we hadn’t paid him the proper respect. I was so worried that I talked to Sister about it, but she assured me it was fine because he is a supporter of the babies home.

In the morning Jeff and Sister met with the probation officer of Tommy’s district and had her correct some of the paperwork and also had her get the paperwork to make us Tommy's official foster parents according to his district (it has to be confirmed by the country for us to get a visa). Then all the papers had to be taken to the Magistrate for a signature and his special seal. He was in court this morning, but Sister has a way of getting things done, and he agreed to sign while he listened to court proceedings. While we were waiting for all of this we played in the car and on the streets of Ibanda. We got lots of strange looks. Everyone stares at you because you are white, and then they stare even more because you have a black baby. Most people are very friendly and say hello to you and welcome you, and some ask you questions about where you are from. After a while it can get a bit overwhelming.
When Sister finished with the Magistrate we went to the Babies Home. We got there after lunch so almost all of the children were sleeping. I was relieved. It is heartbreaking to see all of the children who don’t have homes. There was one group of older little boys, who were about three, who were still awake and taking their showers. When we came by they ran up and hugged us and stared at us with their eyes begging to be picked up. We saw Tommy’s bed (now empty), the place where he ate, showered, was changed, and played. We got to meet the Sisters who run the orphanage and many of the staff. The sisters fed us an Ugandan lunch, and we took pictures with everyone and left.

The people who work there love the children so much. It was so obvious in the way they fawned over Tommy (whom they call Baby Jesus- long story). The orphanage has very little money, because Ibanda is very far from the main cities, so very few families will adopt from there because it means some rough travel (although seriously, if I can handle it, anyone can). Most orphanages are supported by families who have adopted from them. Orphanages that are outside of areas where families prefer to travel have a much harder time finding support for feeding the children and maintaining facilities. Also, without families fostering, they tend to have more children coming in then they have leaving to join families. They care for all the children as long as they are able. Even though they are only supposed to keep the children until they turn three, the nuns keep them until they can find a new place for them to go. The home relies on donations, and although they get support from the local community, the facilities are very crowded right now and there is simply not enough money to adequately feed the children and pay the workers. One bright spot for this home is that a Parish in Pennsylvania has befriended them, and has been sending groups of people over and helping with improvements. It is actually through the mission work of this group that we ended up being connected with this home and with Tommy.

Our journey home was rather uneventful, with the exception of a major diaper explosion, which had to be taken care of on the side of the road. When we pulled over in this little "trading center" everyone who was there gathered around our car and watched me change Tommy's diaper. It was very odd to have such a large group of people just standing there watching me change him. They must have thought we were quite a strange sight to see.

We also stopped in Masaka for some minced meat Samosas, and at another trading center for milk (Jeff and I were not allowed to leave the car at that one) and another for vegetables. I bought a ton of things I did not need from all the children selling produce. They just look so pitiful with the baskets of fruit and veggies on their heads. I know I probably overpaid, and that looking sad is how they get Mzungus to feel sorry for them and overspend, but I really did not care. Even paying Mzungu rates (usually twice the African rate) I still paid less than I would in Kampala and those kids looked hungry and they had no clothes. Now I have more bananas than anyone could every possibly want.

Although the trip was very last minute and hectic, it was truly a blessing to spend ten hours in the car with Sister Christine. She loves Tommy so much, and he her, that it was good for them to have more time together. Also, she was able to tell us so much about him, and I was able to tape her telling his story and singing him some of his favorite songs. I know he will treasure those memories as he grows up. In regards to the details of Tommy’s story- it is something we plan on keeping private until Tommy decides he wants to share it. He has lived at the orphanage all of his life, and he has no known living relatives.

Tommy is having stomach issues. He has been diagnosed with Giardia, and is undergoing treatment. It will probably be some time before things get any better. Otherwise he is doing really well. He has a very strong attachment to Sister Christine, so it has been hard for him to leave her and be with us, but he is adapting. He is eating well, he loves to be cuddled and held, and he is enjoying all of his new toys. He speaks a number of words, mostly in his native dialect, which we are learning to recognize, and a few words in English. He is crawling like crazy, and likes to walk while holding onto furniture. He is a blessing to us, and we are so thankful that God has brought us together.


thecurryseven said...

Thanks so much for all the updates. I have loved following along. I'll be praying that the next court date goes smoothly and that no other paperwork is needed. I hope Tommy's transition continues to go smoothly.

Gretchen said...

Sounds like Tommy is doing well! I'm so glad you guys get to spend so much time in his native home to share it all with him as he grows!

Katie said...

It is so cool that you are were able to visit where Tommy grew up and that he has been able to have some sweet time with you guys and Sister Christine together! And that you taped his story- I'm sure he will treasure that. It sounds like you'll be doing some major apt baby proofing in Evanston bc of all Tommy's crawling;):)